A study today Annals of Internal Medicine Research shows that while telemedicine has helped some groups seeking mental health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans with severe mental health symptoms have suffered as in-person outpatient mental health visits continue to decline.
Additionally, the lack of outpatient care for patients with severe mental illness occurs primarily among patients with lower income and education levels.
In a related study, fewer Swedish teens are seeking care for mental health issues during COVID-19, but their mental health appears to have improved during the pandemic.
Outpatient mental health treatment numbers drop
“Due to the rapid shift to telemental health care, the number of outpatient mental health care recipients in the United States has increased during the pandemic,” said the report’s lead author, Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, of Columbia University. There has been an overall increase among adults.” ambition study, in a university press release.
“However, the proportion of adults with severe psychological distress receiving outpatient mental health treatment has declined significantly.”
The study is based on trends among participants in the Health Spending Panel Survey of Households, which included 86,658 adults from 2018 to 2021. Respondents were asked how many times in the past 30 days they had felt so sad that nothing could cheer them up, nervous, anxious or restless, hopeless, that everything was an effort, or worthless (all, most, some, a little, or none of the time). Responses were scored from 0 to 4, with a score of 13 or higher defined as severe psychological distress, the authors said.
The authors said the proportion of adults experiencing severe psychological distress rose from 3.5% to 4.2% during the study period, likely due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, stress, job losses and school disruptions.
From 2018 to 2021, the outpatient mental health care rate overall increased from 11.2% to 12.4%. But among adults with severe psychological distress, outpatient mental health care rates fell from 46.5% to 40.4%.
Conversely, people with higher levels of education, lower mental illness rankings, and younger adults were more likely to use telepsychological care. Adults over 45 did not see an increase in telepsychiatric care, nor did those seeking care for bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
By 2021, about one-third of adults receiving outpatient mental health care had received one or more mental health video visits, the authors wrote.
“Some groups also have difficulty accessing telemental health care, including older adults and those with lower incomes and less education,” Olfson observed. “These models highlight how easy-to-use and affordable service options are available through to expand coverage and access to telemental health services.”
Swedish students’ mental health improves
In a new Swedish study, researchers show that middle school students who are learning remotely during the pandemic are less likely to seek mental health services than their peers who attend in-person classes, but overall mental health appears to be improving in this age group .
During the first months of the pandemic, from mid-March to mid-June 2020, Swedish high school students (17 to 19 years old) were taught remotely.
Compared with secondary school students aged 14 to 16 who remained in school, this group received 4.4% less care for mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety, and this difference persisted 21 months after the pandemic.
Contrary to other studies on school closures, the Swedish findings suggest that remote learning benefits older adolescents.
Study author Dr. Helena Svaleryd said: “If young people do not access health care through normal channels, such as school health services, we should see that they are more likely to seek urgent or unplanned care. Instead, we see the opposite. .”, Uppsala University in a university press release.
Researchers have proposed several possible explanations for this decrease in mental illness, including reduced stress, more flexible schedules, reduced social pressures, and lower perceived demands on academic performance.